Sleep paralysis, demons, or aliens?


One night, a few years ago, I was lying in bed sleeping; it was about 3 o'clock in the morning and I suddenly found myself in a horrifying state of consciousness - or unconsciousness - I was not really sure at the time. It was as if everything around me was occurring in real time, but I could not move, I could not scream, I couldn't even blink or close my eyes. I was sure there was a burglar outside, coming in through the window that I was sleeping right next to. Suddenly I sat straight up, gasping for air and realized none of it was real. But to me, it felt real, it was terrifying, and I could not sleep again that night.


            This happened to me in less terrifying ways a couple of other times after this incident and finally I decided to look up more information on it.  I don't remember exactly what I searched for - probable 'nightmare that feels real' or 'awake but cannot move' - it doesn't matter what it was because I found what I was looking for and my conclusion was that I was experiencing sleep paralysis.


            Currently, I am taking a Sociology / Criminology class "Soc 406" with Dr. Eric Silver here at Penn State and we just finished a lesson on alien abductions / contact with aliens / however you want to look at it. Apparently many other people in the world have experiences much like the one I described above and come to the conclusion that they have had some type of contact with aliens. To those people, the experience is real and legitimate and nothing changes their mind. I wonder why some people experience this and draw a conclusion that cannot be explained by any known and proven phenomenon; while others, like myself, are quite happy to conclude that there is a scientific explanation and move on with their lives. Perhaps because it feels so real that it is easy to believe? Perhaps they have little faith in scientific explanation? Perhaps I am not open enough to the idea of that which I cannot see (in a conscious state) and prove?


Image credit:

           Whatever the explanation, we may never know, we go on living our lives with our individual beliefs in place and allow others (for the most part) to do the same. So without further ado, here are some 'fun' facts about sleep paralysis:

(According to Susan Clancy's book Abducted: How people come to believe they have been abducted by aliens):

It happens more frequently in people who work shift work, change schedules frequently, have trouble sleeping, have bouts with depression, and drink a lot of caffeine.


            Susan Clancy says sleep paralysis is a condition that occurs when our sleep cycles become temporarily desynchronized. Instead of moving seamlessly between sleeping and being awake, we find ourselves in a limbo where the two states briefly overlap. When sleep cycles overlap it is possible to wake up before sleep paralysis wears off. When this happens dream material lingers into waking state causing hallucinations of sight, sound and sensations. It all feels very real, but it is not.


{Another fun fact: This sleep paralysis is known at atonia}


According to The Psychologist


            Sleep paralysis has something to do with REM sleep as well. It seems that many occurrences are at the beginning stages of REM sleep, and just after someone falls into sleep. (For more on REM sleep click here.)

            There is also any interesting article about REM Sleep Behavior Disorder which is basically when a person "acts out" their dreams. It is interesting, but a bit off topic so I won't go into detail of it here.


            So why does this scientific explanation seem to fit my story, you may ask? Allow me to put it into context further:

            At the time this incident occurred with me, I was working shift work, I would work four days on and 3 days off, 12 hour shifts, usually between 2 A.M. and 2 P.M. I was in the process of adjusting to my new sleep cycle, coffee was my life source, and I had just moved into a new house which had been hectic and stressful. Not to mention at this point in time my husband referred to me as "a robot" because I could function effectively on three or four hours of sleep for days or weeks on end, crash for a few days and repeat. I don't remember at which point in that cycle I was when this happened the first or subsequent times, but the point is - sleep and I have never gotten along well. I have not had any experiences involving sleep paralysis since those that occurred a few years ago, but I also do not work night shift anymore and I have a semi-regular sleep schedule thanks to the motivations that come along with being the mother of a small child who sleeps when he wants to sleep (thus I sleep when I can - when he sleeps).


This probably the most interesting blog post I've read so far!

My sister had some people call "night terrors" when she was in elementary school. It wasn't the exactly the same as the sleep paralysis that you have described, but there were similarities. She would be caught in between a sleeping state and awake state. It was really freaky, something straight out of a scary movie-- she would be sitting up, eyes open, crying about something and screaming! Usually, to wake her up, we'd make her eat something or go to the bathroom. I don't know if "night terror" is exactly the correct term, but it's what we always referred to them as. According to the wiki link (, they start off usually in young children and become less frequent as the child gets older. This is pretty consistent with what my sister experienced; as she reached middle school, the night terrors stopped.

I wonder what other scientific factors could be used to explain your sleep paralysis. I wonder if a what someone eats, in addition to their sleeping routine, has any affect.

Dreams in general have always fascinated me. While some may seem far-fetched, others seem very real. In fact, I sometimes wake up a little confused and (on rare occasions) disappointed because my dreams were not real life. The overlap between being asleep and being awake is very interesting, because I think of a number of times when I've been in that "in between" world. I think brain activity certainly has a lot to do with it. I find that, especially during vivid dreams, if I become aware that it is a dream, I usually find myself waking up shortly thereafter. Otherwise, I am convinced it is all real until I actually do wake up, whenever after the dream that may be. The alien abduction thing is kind of interesting, but I think the answer really lies in the person's own beliefs. I think those that strongly believe of extraterrestrial existence will believe these encounters, while those who do not think aliens exist, or haven't given much thought to the subject, recognize these occurrences as dreams and nothing else.

This same thing happened to me! It was so scary because I physically could do move or speak but I was awake and my eyes were open. After I was able to gasp for air like you did, I was scared for another reason. Just before that night, I watched the movie "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" which explained demonic posession similar to sleep paralysis happening at 3 in the morning. When this "sleep paralysis" happened to me, it was 3 in the morning and that made me even more scared. You said you also experienced this at 3 in the morning and I cant help but wonder is this just a coincidence? Does everyone who experiences sleep paralysis wake up at 3 am? Is the time most likely for your mind to wake while your body sleeps?

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